Those looking for an unusual decorative feature might like to ponder something a little left field – perhaps as far to the left as the skeleton of a diplodocus. This 17m dinosaur specimen, nicknamed Misty (£400,000-£600,000, second picture), is the first to be auctioned in the UK and one of 232 lots in a remarkable sale on Wednesday November 27, at Summers Place Auctions in Somerset, curated by natural-history expert Errol Fuller. “The idea of this sale is to offer a whole range of natural-history items – fossils, minerals, stuffed birds, butterflies, seashells – and combine these with relevant contemporary artworks,” he says.
The squeamish should look away now, since vintage taxidermy is a highlight. Along with a mounted tiger head (£3,000-£5,000), which predates the ban on sales of tiger products, there is a Reeve’s pheasant in a glass case by the Edwardian taxidermist Rowland Ward (£2,000-£4,000), a rearing black bear (£2,500-£4,000), an “exploded” lobster in a glass case showing all its parts (£500-£800, third picture) and an anthropomorphic diorama of eight red squirrels playing cards (£4,000-£6,000). Claustrophobia (£6,000-£8,000, first picture) is one of two works by contemporary taxidermy artist Polly Morgan.
Bones are – literally – a big feature. There’s a huge framed mosasaur jaw found in a 90-million-year-old deposit in Morocco (£8,000-£12,000), a giant leg bone from a sauropod (£10,000-£15,000), a dodo’s pelvis bone (£12,000-£15,000) and leg bone (£7,000-£10,000) and a rare fossil walrus skull (£15,000-£20,000). Further amazing finds include a magnificent Jurassic crinoid (£8,000-£12,000), an ichthyosaurus fossil from Lyme Regis (£50,000-£80,000) and a large, beautifully matched pair of ammonites (£4,500-£6,000, fourth picture) dating from about 200m years ago.
Some pieces, for example an antique narwhal tusk (£9,000-£12,000), are “in the raw”, while others are cased, such as a large Victorian display of tropical birds from Africa (£3,000-£5,000) and a very pretty Edwardian fire screen in which butterflies are forever captured (£500-£800). Decorative arrangements, including a matching pair of framed fossilised shark’s teeth (£500-£800) or a glazed box containing nine crabs (£400-£600), reveal the beauty of symmetrically presented specimens. Meanwhile, the minerals are simply breathtaking. To wit: the gigantic amethyst geode (£12,000-£18,000) and double A-grade lapis lazuli in freeform (£8,000-£12,000).
The contemporary artworks, which focus on flora and fauna, include Frances Doherty’s fine stoneware piece The Bishop’s Pom Pom (£1,200-£1,800), Bird II, a signed bronze by Peter Walker (edition of 12, £12,000-£18,000), John Sutton’s Tyto owl in Portland limestone (signed unique piece, £1,200-£1,800) and Marilyn Vergne’s whimsical Theodore bear in red GRP resin (number two from an edition of eight, £4,000-£6,000). As fine as they are, however, these artworks stand little chance of trumping the natural wonders on sale.